Picture this: a woman who has been a voluntary goodwill ambassador Bluecoat at Auckland Airport for ten years, a volunteer English instructor to new immigrants at a local church, a volunteer at the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, a volunteer at Vincent De Pauls, a donor to hospice and the nearest old people’s home, dies holding the hand of her son, a long-service firefighter.
Cancer. Lung, breast, brain, gut, adrenal glands … The woman was a sprightly 73-year old who had only retired at 72. She was diagnosed in May 2010 and died a week before the 45th anniversary of arriving in New Zealand as an eager immigrant. This was in late July of 2010, just over two months later.
She died in a hospice, which is supported by voluntary donations alone.
She had worked full-time and paid NZ taxes for at least 42 of the years she lived here as a proud NZ citizen.
Did she know smoking could cause cancer? Of course she did.
She was an addict.
Her addiction was profound. She had smoked since she was 14. You may say she could have suffered directly from smoking a long time before she was 73, and that’s certainly possible.
Her mother, a non-smoker, lived to a week short of her 99th birthday. (Her father died in the London blitz.)
She died incontinent, unable to lift her hand to her mouth. She was hallucinating and delusional for some of the time in the last two weeks of her life with, thankfully for the family, moments of lucidity. Except in those she was also all too aware of what was happening to her.
The week before, her addiction was so strong, she was wheeled outside. A cigarette was lit for her. but she didn’t even have the strength to lift it to her mouth.
This was despite nicotine patches. Thankfully this phase passed as she sank into torpor.
But this is hardly an original story.
It’s all too common. Thousands of people die of smoking-related cancer every year in New Zealand.
Our government actively supports tobacco smoking. It receives huge taxes from actively participating in killing and maiming its own citizens. You can buy cigarettes freely on the open market – in supermarkets, dairies and other New Zealand shops the length and breadth of the country.
You may be thinking I am about to advocate banning smoking outright.
That’s damn right. Cigarettes should not be for sale.
Not a single soul who isn’t already a smoker should be able to take it up.
Confirmed addicts should be on prescription cigarettes and managed withdrawal, supervised by the medical system and their personal physicians.
For the good of the country and the people.
Since the government is not doing this, for God only knows what reason, I therefore charge it with a crime against humanity.
In New Zealand, 4300 to 4600 deaths per year have directly been attributed to smoking. An estimated 350 of are from secondary tobacco smoke inhalation – the rest are directly attributable to personal smoking.
Smoking causes one in four of all cancer deaths in New Zealand.
A solution of one quarter of cancer-related deaths would be hailed as a fundamental medical marvel – yet it’s staring us in the face.
Each year tobacco causes five million premature deaths out there in the world. This is one in ten of all adult deaths worldwide.
Half of the people who smoke today and continue smoking will be killed by it.
Half of those will die in middle age, long before their tax earning potential ceases.
A crime against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “constitutes a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings.
“They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.”
This government’s support of tobacco smoking fits the description, particularly in that the tobacco industry is a widespread and systematic practice which adds up to an attack on human dignity; grave humiliation; degradation; and murder (nearly 5000 clearly preventable deaths a year).
New Zealand tobacco availability is “part of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government”.
For this government, along with those preceding since the 1950s, has actively been supporting this systematic and sustained attack on human dignity; grave humiliation of its citizens; degradation; and murder.
It’s clearly a crime against humanity.
And it profoundly disgusts me.
As it should you.